Hiden> A summary of the history of the West – the values of the modern era, part one
A summary of the history of the West – the values of the modern era, part one
All over the world, including in Israel, there seems to be a wave of populist governments that oppose what are known as Western values - freedom, equal opportunities and globalization (of which science is one of the successful examples). Nir Lahav reviews the development process of these values and why they are threatened now
Already in 2015 I wrote a post on my blog, free and happy (the late), about the fact that there is a problem in Israel and in the entire Western world. The state education system does not teach almost the modern values that shaped and shape us and the Western world in which we live (at most it taught citizenship a little and made the students memorize material for the matriculation test, but this is not education for values but learning material for the test).In such a situation it is easy to understand why many people feel that they live in a vacuum of values and why Israel, and the entire world, are going through a period of populism and the weakening of democracy. It is unbelievable that people who are supposed to be elected officials in a democratic country They will say such erroneous statements as that the weakening of the judiciary promotes democracy because the Knesset and the government are the will of the people and it is not possible for judges who are not elected by the people to be able to cancel laws and regulations. But to understand why this argument is fundamentally wrong, one must know the modern values according to which democracy works. Because everyone has opinions, but in order to understand what is at the root of reality, you have to dig deep. So, once again, it’s time to try and complete the flawed education system and explain what the fundamental values are that shape our lives. It’s time to correct the distortion, to recognize what the values are from Western culture has developed and decide whether we choose them? If the answer is positive, it has consequences and we need to take responsibility and start living and directing the country according to these values.
It all started with the Renaissance. After 1500 years of the Middle Ages, suddenly, in the countries of Europe, a miraculous act took place, an act of renewal – the Renaissance. This great social revolution began about 500 years ago and we are its descendants and successors. The beginning of the revolution was the weakening of the Catholic religion and the scientific revolution and the continuation of the revolution was called the Age of Enlightenment. Thanks to this constant revolution, science developed, the United States was established, slavery was confiscated, equality was given to women, equality was given to homosexuals, new countries were established, including Israel, democracy was renewed, liberalism was created, religion weakened and atheism, socialism and capitalism developed. The importance of this revolution cannot be underestimated. The entire Western world that we know today, including Israel, is the result of this radical revolution. Still, the majority of the public in Israel and in the Western countries in general know very little about this revolution and the values it represents.
The person in the center
The idea behind the revolution is the tremendous power that exists in the human being. After the Middle Ages when Christianity preached to man how small, sinful and worthless he is, there was a recollection of human power and the potential inherent in man. In modern words you can say this, we live once, we have a brain developed enough to know this, to think, to imagine, to make simplifications, to look at things from a perspective, to create new works from nothing, to be aware of the environment and oneself and most importantly, to choose. These abilities open up to us a huge potential that we are just beginning to understand. We should do something with all this power in our short lifetime. This is the ideal we strive for. All the historical events mentioned before are different ways in which the human race tries to get closer to this ideal. Because this is an ideal, we are still far from living in a world that has managed to realize it, therefore each revolution brings us another step closer to the ideal and this journey continues both in our days and in the future to come. We are, whether we like it or not, part of this constant revolution. Each step along this journey was accompanied by a struggle, sometimes very violent and sometimes less violent, but over time these struggles succeeded and advanced human culture towards the realization of the ideal. It may be a journey that will never end, but the main thing in it is the path and leaps that human society makes in every successful struggle.
An important part of education is not just teaching dry material but showing its relevance to life and experiencing the ideas. Art is an excellent tool for doing this, but of course the education system does not do this at all. Here is an example of an image that ran on Facebook and conveys the experience of the enormous power and potential of man when it compares man to Superman in handcuffs and asks a question that is related to the daily life of most of us: How does it feel to be stuck in a regular job when you know your true potential?
Challenging the Catholic concept that diminishes man
At the beginning of the journey there were the philosophers who dared to doubt and who dared to think that an individual has enough power to understand everything, to challenge traditions, teachers, priests and divine commands and in their place to start and explore the world and themselves alone. One such central philosopher who understood the importance of casting doubt was Francis Bacon who suggested that in order to get closer to the truth and to understand the world one should question everything and let nature decide what is true and what is not. In this way we will clean up all the ideas, hopes and traditions that hide or distort the truth and we will only be left with the theories that managed to withstand the test. This is how we will reveal the truth, by clearing the illusions from our path. Instead of us determining what is real only from our expectations and our beliefs that can be false, let nature show us what is real with the help of rigorous experiments. Maybe this idea sounds trivial today, but when it was proposed it was revolutionary. He challenged the Holy Scriptures for example and claimed that they should also be doubted and every claim about the world should be tested with the help of a rigorous experiment. Bacon basically claims that because we have so much mental power, it is very easy for us to work on ourselves and live in illusions, therefore we need an external source to know what is real and what is false. We must develop a method of how we will understand from nature itself, which idea of ours is correct and which idea does not stand the test of reality. We call this method today, the scientific method.
Thus, this reminder that man has abilities and strengths led to the courage to question everything and start exploring nature and yourself. Very quickly the results began to arrive. We call these results the scientific revolution. Copernicus challenges Christianity and proposes not the earth, but the sun in the center, Galileo perfects the telescope and shows that Venus indeed revolves around the sun and therefore probably the earth too, Kepler continues to refine the idea and add mathematics to it, then Newton comes and unites everything under one beautiful theory – mechanics. Three equations that describe almost all the phenomena they could measure back then. Simplicity, elegance and beauty are formulated as mathematical equations that man has developed. How powerful is human creativity! Suddenly it is possible to predict the movements of the planets, plan rockets and land a man on the moon. And it all started from the reminders of the power of man and the courage to question everything and explore the world for ourselves. People like Darwin, Freud and Einstein have since continued to rebel against what is known and accepted, to question and expand the picture of our world and to discover another aspect of reality. We recognized our ignorance and since then we began to gain real knowledge about the world in a long journey, step by step that continues to this day, revealing more and more secrets about the nature of our mysterious reality.
The dizzying success of the scientific revolution and Newton’s mechanics showed that the philosophers’ assumption was correct. Science and art are an instructive example of how much it is worth giving free rein to human power and how much potential is hidden in the human being. Following these successes, calls from philosophers began to give every person a chance to realize the power inherent in him. Thus, from the ideal of human power we arrive at values. A value is an idea that we have decided is so important that we try to live our lives by it. For example, according to the ideal, every person has tremendous power, therefore every person should be given the opportunity to feel this power and realize it, as long as he does not harm another person’s ability to realize his power. Here we have arrived at the value of freedom. This idea of giving each person freedom so that they can realize their power sounds so important to us that we decided that we should live by it. Both at the personal level and at the level of society as a whole.
One can understand why the idea of freedom gained such great importance. Imagine a bird that grew up in a cage all its life and can’t spread its wings and fly away from it high in the sky, what a horrendous waste of abilities! Will she be happy in a cage knowing that she has the ability to fly, if only Yap Did they sing to her? Here she occasionally moves her wings, starts to rise and then gets stuck in the roof of the cage and falls to the bottom in pain. How many times will she try to fly until she gives up? The same is true of man, who has enormous strengths and therefore should be released from the cage and let him spread his wings and fly higher and higher as far as he can reach. Otherwise we shut him down, discourage him and make him feel small and insignificant.
A bird in a cage trying to break free
Another value that should ensure this flight is the value of equal opportunities. If every person has tremendous power, there cannot be one person who can exercise that power and another person who cannot. Every person should be given an equal opportunity regardless of their origin, religion, gender, age, amount of money, amount of power, color of their skin, origin, etc. Any such quality is dwarfed compared to the tremendous power that exists in a person and is therefore irrelevant. If we return again to the example of the birds in the cage, every bird has wings and every bird has the ability to fly, regardless of whether it has a long or short beak and regardless of the color of its feathers and the quality of its singing, therefore every bird should be freed from the cage and not just a certain species of birds with beautiful feathers . The important thing is the ability to fly which is common to all birds. In man, this common ability is the mental power. It doesn’t matter much where you were born, for example, what matters is that as a human being you have an innate power that comes from your developed brain capacity. That is why this journey towards the ideal of the realization of human abilities is not limited to a particular people, a particular country or a particular religion. It is a task in which the whole human race can take part. This journey crosses cultures, nations and countries and is shared by the entire human race. This also means that you should not give too much importance to insignificant qualities, including your origin, your place of birth, the nation you belong to, the religion and the norms and customs into which you happened to be born.
These ideals and values challenge us. For most of the history of our species we lived in small and local tribes, without the need to think big about the entire human race. But now, we challenge ourselves and understand that relative to the power each person has, everything else is dwarfed. The conclusion is that there is no essential difference between one human group and another. There is nothing special and different about your tribe. We are challenged to unite all human beings to try and live in great human harmony. To create a great human culture where everything is possible and every person is aware of their strengths and finds ways to realize them. Are we capable of this? That’s a great question that doesn’t have an answer yet, but there is one area where there is relatively large-scale global cooperation without local tribal thinking. The field of science is open to all scientists from all over the world and produces fruitful collaborations between them regardless of their origin. In the particle accelerator in Zern in Switzerland, for example, groups of scientists from most countries of the world (including Israel and Iran for example) work and collaborate to understand what the material is made of. When we remember that science is precisely the product of these ideals and values, it is no wonder that it is there that we see worldwide collaborations and an emphasis on the human journey to understand reality with a minimum of tribal thinking. It is nice to see that by and large the practical product of science – technology, connects and unites people (inter-Atlantic flights, cell phones and the Internet for example).
These values shook the western world. Until then we lived in a monarchical society, there are masters and there are servants, there is a king and there is a subject, there are those who live in bivouacs and there are those who have received special privileges from God. Following the recognition of these values, coups and revolutions began so that we can reach a situation where all human beings are free and have equal rights in the exercise of their power. For this purpose we defined new laws and regimes. We abolished the monarchy, abolished the privileges of the lords and established equality before the law and denied the governors the ability to accumulate too much power (at least we tried..). The important tools we have developed for this purpose are democracy, separation of powers and laws that protect human rights. Democracy tries to ensure that there is more power for the citizen and less power for the ruler. The separation of powers into a legislative authority, an executive authority and a judicial authority also prevent the accumulation of too much power in the hands of the rulers. It is a method that creates balances and brakes so that each authority balances and restrains the other and there is no one authority with unlimited power.
But these tools are not enough to guarantee the values of freedom and equal opportunities. Democracy itself is an important but not sufficient tool. Laws protecting human rights such as the right to life, dignity and of course the right to freedom and equal opportunities should be added to it. This is how we arrive at the prevailing regime of the Western countries nowadays and also of the State of Israel – liberal democracy.
the american revolution
The first to do this were the Americans, with the founding of the United States and the writing of its liberal constitution. They found an ingenious method of how to take abstract ideals and values and turn them into practical laws that protect and give rights to the individual citizen. The constitution is a collection of principles that reflect the ideal and the values of freedom and equal opportunities. They are above all other laws of the state and every other law must obey them. If there is a law that goes against the constitution, it means that it goes against the ideal and the values and therefore it is repealed. I think that a constitution is a brilliant idea and we should also open one of our own in Israel (hoping that it will also reflect these values and the principle of a democratic-liberal state for a Jewish people). At the moment what replaces the constitution in Israel are the basic laws that preserve the values and ideals at the base of modern culture and all other laws must be obeyed.
Following the success of the founding of the USA, the French Revolution also took place and following it more and more countries underwent this transformation towards these liberal values. Some of these revolutions were immediately successful and some took a long time (France, for example, took a hundred or so years after the French Revolution until they were able to establish themselves as a democracy In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that the existence of the State of Israel was made possible and realized thanks to these values and ideas. Theodore Herzl’s idea of establishing a state for the Jews did not come by chance. It grew within these ideas of freedom and self-determination and during his time different peoples began to define themselves and demand a free sovereign state for themselves A state for the Jewish people is another realization of the values of freedom at the level of an entire nation that demands that it be allowed to decide for itself how to live. Zionism grew out of these ideals and values and therefore even before the establishment of the state, for example, equality between the sexes of the pioneers was great, relative to that time , and immediately upon the establishment of the state it was clear that it would be a liberal democratic state of the Jewish people. The State of Israel grew out of the ideal and modern values of the Western culture and we need to maintain that the image of the state of the Jews will continue to be a part of this culture Also in the future along the long journey of the human race to realize the ideal.
Now one can easily see the many problems of the judicial revolution proposed by the current government. Take for example the overcoming paragraph. If the Knesset can overcome any determination of the High Court with a majority of 61 members of the Knesset, how can the court restrain the government?
If we remember that the government always has a majority of at least 61 members of the Knesset, then it is clear that with the help of such an override law the government can do whatever it wants. We denied the judicial system the power to balance and restrain the executive branch. In other words, with the law of escalation the government authorizes itself to have unlimited power. Do you know what is called a government in which the government has unlimited power?
The answer is of course a dictatorship.
In a dictatorship, the government has unlimited power
But wait, this is exactly what we tried to prevent! We do not want to go back and create a dictatorship, even if it is the dictatorship of the majority. Such a dictatorship, it has unlimited power and can decide what it wants, just like the medieval kings. Without a strong judicial system there is no protection for the individual. What will stop the government from passing laws that harm your choices or the equal opportunities you deserve? What will prevent the government from passing laws that cancel the elections for example? This is precisely why we developed the balancing and braking system. There is a constitution or basic laws that reflect the values and the ideal, and every law or regulation should be subject to them. The role of the High Court is to examine from a constitutional point of view whether the laws and regulations passed by the government do in fact meet the values of society as reflected in the basic laws and if they do not have to cancel or change the government’s decisions. Now it is also clear why the judges of the High Court do not need to be elected. Their role is not to enact laws or carry out the will of the people. Their role is to maintain the ideal and values of society according to a careful and transparent legal examination of whether laws passed by the government actually comply with the fundamental laws of the country.
There is an understanding here that there is something more important beyond the government and the incumbent Knesset and even beyond the decision the majority. These are just tools so that we can realize modern values and ideals. History knows the cases in which a democratic majority decision destroyed democracy and the values at its base. It seems that it is very easy for the human race to regress and return to the dark days (the rise of the Nazis to power, Hungary, Russia and Turkey are just some of these cases). Another understanding here is that power corrupts people and as much as a person or group has more power than others, eventually the power will be translated into corruption and harm to the other powerless people. Damage to their ability to connect to their infinite strengths, damage to their freedom and rights and ultimately mental and physical damage. There are countless examples of this throughout history, both from the days of the monarchy to modern dictatorships (for example fascism, the communist bloc, the junta that ruled Argentina and much more). Therefore, we must first of all maintain the principle of equality before the law, no person or group is above the law. As Israeli judge Alex Stein (appointment promoted, by the way, Ayelet Shaked) said in the ruling in the case of Aryeh Deri, high-profile people are not above the law, and the common citizen is not below it. We all bow our heads before the law, but the law does not bow its head before anyone.
Beyond the principle of equality before the law, the infrastructure of liberal democracy must be maintained so that the government will actually realize the modern values we talked about. A constitution or basic laws are supposed to do just that. The government and the Knesset must be subject to the basic laws of the country and therefore must have another body that is not subject to the government or the Knesset whose role is to transparently examine whether the functioning of the Knesset and the government do indeed comply with the basic laws and if not this body must have the power to force the legislative and executive authorities to amend or repeal the laws or The decisions that harm the values and the modern ideal of society. Think about it this way, there is a famous sentence that probably originates from the days of the French Revolution that says “I strongly oppose your opinions, but I will defend your right to say them, even if it costs me my life.” This is a beautiful example that there are values and an ideal that must be respected and preserved beyond the different opinions and beyond who is in control at the moment. In contrast, the legal revolution that the new government proposes aims to change these basic laws in a way that is contrary to the values of democracy by destroying the restraint that the legal system imposes on the government. As I explained, this is a regime coup that will turn Israel into a non-democratic country that no longer follows the ideal and modern values of Western culture.
Do we really want to reach such a situation?
In a long process, the human race learns to break free from the birdcage to spread its wings and realize the powers hidden in it to reach the infinity. Along the way we understood which values and governance system would help us do this. Do we want to give it all up?
Part II will be published soon
More on the subject on the science website:
- Why choose social justice?
- The war on science is getting a step higher: we must restore trust in science to save democracy and the future of humanity
- Something went wrong at the end of history
- Are we at the threshold of a revolution?